Thursday, February 14, 2013


This may come as a shock to some of you, but I am what you would call a Bill of Rights absolutist. That is to say, on issues involving our Constitution's first ten amendments, what you see is what you get. The Second Amendment protects a persons right to "keep and bear arms." That's pretty much it. And my reasoning is also pretty simple. If someone, a bad guy, attempts to harm me or my family with a firearm, I shouldn't have to wait for the police or resort to throwing pots and pans at the guy in order to protect us. I don't think that it's a very hard concept to understand, but I can see where the other side is coming from.
Americans have always been quick to ban or outlaw things, or behaviors, that are thought to cause problems in society. Alcohol, drugs, porn, adultery (see The Scarlet Letter) are just a few examples. We, of course, miss the bigger picture most of the time so we get fun things like the organized crime that was the direct result of Prohibition in the 1920s. The same is true of guns. If we just ban the damn things the problem will go away. Sorry, it won't.
In the current debate over gun control a rather large majority of people believe that so called Universal Background Checks will keep guns out of the hands of nut jobs and criminals. It's a nice idea. It just can't work.
A little personal history might help explain why. Back in the day when my first wife and I moved to a 121 acre farm in rural West Virginia I was a gun owner. The first was a .22 cal rifle, with a scope, that I purchased, new, from Sears. I think. It was a very long time ago. I do know that a background check was not part of the process. My second gun was a 12 gauge, single shot, shotgun that I paid $21 for at an auction. This gun was old. Old to the point that the first time I fired it the gun was tied to a tree and I pulled the trigger with a fairly long piece of string. Just in case. My third gun was a .30 cal lever action deer rifle that I bought from a friend. That's it.
The .22 was bought for protection. Not our protection. Protection for the chickens that my Ex insisted that we raise. It seems that chickens, and chicken feed, attract what we liked to call Varmints. It also worked very well to kill a steer in preparation for butchering. Sorry, but them's the facts. The only hunting I ever did with it was hunting the huge crow that was destroying our garden one year. Now crows are very smart birds and this one was at the top of the list. Every time I came around the corner of the house, with the gun in hand, said crow took off like a rocket. If I hid the rifle behind my back he'd just sit and look at me until I went to swing the gun into shooting position. Off like a rocket again. Finally I spotted him about 200 yards away in the back field while I was still in the house. Declaring softly, "I'm smarter than a crow," I took the rifle into the bathroom. The window looked out on the field. I got down on the floor and very slowly opened the window just enough to allow the rifle barrel to poke out and to give me a clear sight line threw the scope.
I pulled the trigger just as he started to jump into the air for takeoff. He never made it. .22 bullets are very fast. I learned a very important lesson that day. Never fire a gun in a small bathroom! Besides going instantly deaf, I was only hit a glancing blow from the hot brass cartridge that ejected from the gun and then bounced off the wall not two feet to my right. The sucker could have caused serious damage to an eye.
The shotgun's main use was snake elimination. We had an old stone drain on the edge of the front yard and copperheads loved to sun themselves in the rocks. A 12 gauge shell full of buckshot works wonders, and avoids the problem of ricochet. It was better for all concerned. I never hunted with the deer rifle, and, in fact, I think I only fired it a handful of times. It was like getting kicked in the shoulder by an angry horse.
In the end I sold the .30 cal to my brother in law, sent the then broken shotgun to the dump and left the .22 cal with my Ex when I split the scene. I have no idea where it may be now. So how does any of that relate to gun control?
The whole idea of Universal Background Checks is the part about universal. Currently all federally licensed gun dealers must get a background check on any person buying a gun. This same rule doesn't apply to private, person to person sales at gun shows. This is the so called "gun show loophole." Closing the loophole, assuming that the system is in place to allow for quick and easy background checks at gun shows, is not much of an issue to me. No, the problem is with actual person to person sales. And in particular sales of existing guns.
As I said. I bought a high powered rifle from one person and sold it to another. No paperwork of any kind was involved. In order to bring that gun, and millions like it (there are over 300 million guns in this country already), into a Universal Background Check scheme would require registration of that gun. Some proper and approved paperwork would have to be attached, legally, to such and such .30 cal rifle with serial number so and so. This would be true of every existing gun in the country. Oh, and that paperwork would, of course, have to include information on the current owner, and any subsequent owner, much in the same way we register vehicles. Sure, lets create a DMV for guns.
I see at least two real problems with such a registration scheme. In order for it to work to prevent guns from falling into "The Wrong Hands," (whoever that is) there needs to be a threat of punishment for failing to get a proper background check before a private sale. That threat of punishment would attach to the last  known registered owner of the gun no matter how long ago he owned it and no matter how many person to person sales had occurred since the first such sale. A gun sold and resold twenty times over twenty years that ends up being used in a crime could result in the arrest of the poor schmuck who needed an extra $200 to fix the brakes on his truck twenty years before the crime was committed.
That's the only way Universal Background Checks would work. It's not like the police can see a gun's license hanging off the stock or hand grip like the license plate on your car. No, this would only work with universal registration of all guns...and gun owners. That last part is the second problem with this idea. It has long been said in the NRA world that "Registration leads to confiscation." That may sound a little paranoid, but I think that it's a sentiment held by many more people than the usual suspects labeled, "Gun Nuts." And it's that sentiment which would cause most existing guns to never be registered at all. If the guns aren't registered the whole thing fails. It really is that simple.
Why do I believe that most folks would not step up to have their gun(s) put into the registry? Well, first I think many gun owners would ask, "What's in it for me?" Piece of mind doesn't drive a lot of action by the American public. If people can't see a benefit to them, directly, they are not going to comply. And remember, for this to work the paper trail has to include every subsequent sale or gift of the gun or the damn thing could come back to bite you years later.
Second, we have a long history of ignoring or avoiding laws that we don't like or agree with. Prohibition is a perfect example, as is drug use (tens of millions of people smoke pot on a regular basis) and even the underground economy of cash payments for legal services (I'll give you $20 to take that old stove to the dump) not to mention illegal ones, come to mind. What makes anyone think that tens of millions of gun owners are going to step up and "Do the right thing?"
So, there is my pretty pessimistic take on gun control. I think that this is one of those areas where we as a nation can condemn something, gun violence, while in the end realizing that the ultimate price of freedom, is freedom. In this case that means the freedom to get shot at by bad people. We don't have to like it, but I think we have to live with it.

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